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1.2: Verb Tense

This resource was written by Jaclyn M. Wells.
Last edited by Allen Brizee on April 5, 2013 .


This resource deals with verb tense, regular, and irregular verbs.

Verb Tense

Some questions will ask you to correct verb tense errors. This section reviews the different verb tenses and the irregular verbs that can cause confusion.

General Guidelines

The following are some general suggestions for dealing with verb tense questions.

Some questions will require you to read the entire passage so that you can choose verb tenses that are consistent with the whole passage instead of just one isolated sentence. Look to both the passage and the individual sentence to figure out which tense should be used.

Use clues in the passage and sentence to determine what verb tense you should choose. Certain words and phrases may indicate time. For example, yesterday would indicate the past and would provide a clue that the past tense should be chosen, while tomorrow would indicate the future and would provide a clue that the future tense should be chosen.

Also, pay attention to other verbs in the passage and sentence. The verb you’re looking at may also need to be in the past tense if all the other verbs are in the past tense.

Stay focused on what is happening in the passage. Concentrate on the individual words and the grammar and the message that is being communicated. This message will help you to figure out what is happening in the past, present, and future and therefore decide what verb tenses should be used.

Regular Verbs

For regular verbs, there is a pattern for forming verbs based on tenses (or time). There are seven basic verb tenses:

  1. Simple Present: They talk
  2. Present Perfect: They have talked
  3. Present Progressive: They are talking
  4. Simple Past: They talked
  5. Past Perfect: They had talked
  6. Future: They will talk
  7. Future Perfect: They will have talked

The examples above work with the subject they. They is a third-person plural noun. What do these verbs look like when paired with a third-person singular noun? See below.

  1. Simple Present: She talks
  2. Present Perfect: She has talked
  3. Present Progressive: She is talking
  4. Simple Past: She talked
  5. Past Perfect: She had talked
  6. Future: She will talk
  7. Future Perfect: She will have talked

Note that only two major elements differ between the third-person plural and third-person singular nouns: the simple present and the helping verbs (has, is, had, will, will have) in the Present Perfect, Present Progressive, Past Perfect, and Future Perfect tenses.

The table below reviews the verb forms for all seven basic tenses used with I, you, we, they (third-person plural), and she (third-person singular). The table also reviews the general meaning of each tense.

Tense Verb Form Meaning
Simple Present I, you, we, they talk
he, she, it talks
An action occurring habitually or generally: I talk to my mother every day.
Simple Past I, you, we, they, he, she, it talked An action in the past: I talked to my mother yesterday.
Future I, you, we, they, he, she, it will talk An action in the future: I will talk to my mother tomorrow.
Present Progressive I am talking
you, we, they are talking
he, she, it is talking
An action in progress: I am talking to my mother right now.
Present Perfect I, you, we, they have talked
he, she, it has talked
An action that occurred in the past and continues until present: I have talked to my mother every day this week.
Past Perfect I, you, we, they, he, she, it had talked An action from the past that was completed before something else: I had talked to my mother before my brother called her.
Future Perfect I, you, we, they, he, she, it will have talked A future action that will be completed at some specific time: I will have talked to my mother for 10 days in a row by this time next week.

Irregular Verbs

Some verbs in the English language are a bit tricky. These verbs don’t follow the usual verb patterns described above. It’s a good idea to become familiar with these verbs so that you can spot errors involving them on the multiple-choice questions and be careful with them when writing your essay. The tables below list the most common irregular verbs and provide their present, simple past, and past participle tenses.

Have, Do, and Be
The three most common irregular verbs in English are have, do, and be.

  Present Simple Past Past Participle (used with has, have, or had)
I, you, we, they (or any plural noun)
Have Had Had
He, she, it (or any singular noun)
Has Had Had
I, you, we, they (or any plural noun)
Do Did Done
He, she, it (or any singular noun)
Does Did Done
Am Was Been
He, she, it (or any singular noun)
Is Was Been
You, we, they (or any plural noun)
Are Were Be

Other Irregular Verbs

The table below includes some other commonly used irregular verbs. The simple present, simple past, and past participle of each verb is included.

Present Past Past Participle
Become became become
Begin began begun
Blow blew blown
Break broke broken
Bring brought brought
Build built built
Burst burst burst


caught caught
Choose chose chosen
Come came come
Cut cut


Deal dealt dealt
Drink drank drunk
Drive drove driven
Eat ate eaten
Fall fell fallen
Fight fought fought
Find found found
Fly flew flown
Forbid forbade forbidden
Forget forgot forgotten
Forgive forgave forgiven
Freeze froze frozen
Get got gotten
Give gave given
Go went gone
Grow grew grown
Hear heard heard
Hide hid hidden
Hold held held
Hurt hurt hurt
Keep kept kept
Know knew known
Lay laid laid
Lead led led
Leave left left
Let let let
Lie lay lain
Lose lost lost
Make made made
Meet met met
Pay paid paid
Quit quit quit
Read read read
Ride rode ridden
Run ran run
Say said said
See saw seen
Seek sought sought
Sell sold sold
Send sent sent
Shake shook shaken
Shine shone shone
Sing sang sung
Sit sat sat
Sleep slept slept
Speak spoke spoken
Spend spent spent
Spring sprang sprung
Stand stood stood
Steal stole stolen
Swim swam swum
Swing swung swung
Take took taken
Teach taught taught
Tear tore torn
Tell told told
Think thought thought
Throw threw thrown
Understand understood understood
Wake woke (waked) woken (waked)
Wear wore worn
Win won won
Write wrote written

Verb Tense Exercise 1

Check the following sentences for confusing shifts in tense. If the tense of each underlined verb expresses the time relationship accurately, write S (satisfactory). If a shift in tense is not appropriate, write U (unsatisfactory) and make necessary changes. In most cases with an inappropriate shift, there is more than one way to correct the inconsistency.

___ 1. If the club limited its membership, it will have to raise its dues.
___ 2. While Barbara puts in her contact lenses, the telephone rang.
___ 3. Thousands of people will see the art exhibit by the time it closes.
___ 4. By the time negotiations began, many pessimists have expressed doubt about them.
___ 5. After Capt. James Cook visited Alaska on his third voyage, he is killed by Hawaiian islanders in 1779.
___ 6. I was terribly disappointed with my grade because I studied very hard.
___ 7. The moderator asks for questions as soon as the speaker has finished.
___ 8. Everyone hopes the plan would work.
___ 9. Harry wants to show his friends the photos he took last summer.
___ 10. Scientists predict that the sun will die in the distant future.
___ 11. The boy insisted that he has paid for the candy bars.
___ 12. The doctor suggested bed rest for the patient, who suffers from a bad cold.

Click here for exercise answers.

Verb Tense Exercise 2

In the following passage from Alex Haley's Roots, some of the verbs have been deliberately omitted. Supply the appropriate tense for each missing verb. The plain form of each missing verb is given in parentheses.

In Banjuh, the capital of Gambia, I met with a group of Gambians. They (tell) me how for centuries the history of Africa has been preserved. In the older villages of the back country, there are old men called griots, who (be) in effect living archives. Such men (memorize) and, on special occasions, (recite) the cumulative histories of clans or families or villages as those histories (have) long been told. Since my forefather (have) said his name was Kin-tay (properly spelled Kinte), and since the Kinte clan (be) known in Gambia, the group of Gambians would see what they could do to help me. I was back in New York when a registered letter (arrive) from Gambia.

Word (have) been passed in the back country, and a griot of the Kinte clan (have) , indeed, been found. His name, the letter said, (be) Kebba Kanga Fofana. I (return) to Gambia and (organize) a safari to locate him.

Click here for exercise answers.

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